The Mile High 420 Festival at Civic Center Park wasn't the only event where Denver police officers handed out public cannabis consumption citations on April 20. At least two more 4/20 events were interrupted by police for alleged public consumption, and in one case, organizers could be hit with more than just a pot-smoking citation.
Both Tetra 9 Private Lounge & Garden and Cheba Hut's East Colfax Avenue location held special events on 4/20. The Denver Police Department looks for such events on local calendars, and before the high holiday, both the DPD and the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses reminded 4/20 event organizers of laws against public pot consumption. In order to enforce those laws, the DPD sends undercover officers to various events — and Denver officials believe that both Tetra 9 and Cheba Hut failed the test.
Although both locations are known for their love of cannabis — Tetra 9 is a private cannabis lounge, and Cheba Hut is a weed-friendly sandwich shop know for the pot puns on its menu — the DPD citations issued to the businesses might have very different outcomes. As a restaurant with a liquor license, Cheba Hut could face harsher consequences than Tetra 9, which operates under more ambiguity as a members-only club.
Excise and Licenses communications director Eric Escudero confirms that his department is reviewing Cheba Hut's liquor license "for potential administrative actions as a result of marijuana public consumption violations documented on April 20," but can't comment on potential action against Tetra 9. Rob Corry, lawyer for Tetra 9 owner Dwayne Benjamin, confirms that the club was cited for 4/20 activities, but says the club is back up and running.
This was not the first time that DPD officers infiltrated a members-only cannabis lounge or private party; over the past few years, various 4/20 events and cannabis clubs have been shut down while their owners were issued citations for public consumption and Clean Indoor Air Act violations.
Cheba Hut did not promote on-site pot use in advertisements for its 4/20 event, but it was still targeted by the DPD. Although certified security people were checking IDs at the door, according to owner David Timmons, undercover officers had made it to the back patio, where approximately six people started smoking pot. The officers quickly detained those smoking, he adds, and uniformed officers arrived shortly thereafter to issue public-consumption citations to the "tourists" and complicity citations to Timmons and his bar manager.
Timmons sounds more irritated with out-of-staters who don't understand Colorado's cannabis law than he does with the police. "That's a tough gig," he says. "They were just out there out doing their job, so we aren't upset, by any means. When I saw those IDs on the table, I didn't see any from Colorado. A lot of out-of-towners don't understand the laws here."
The event resumed after the citations were written, and despite looming "administrative actions" by Excise and Licenses, Timmons says he's confident that Cheba Hut's punishment won't be too tough. "I've never had any problems with the law. That location hasn't had any issues, either, so I don't expect anything to be harsh," he says, but he admits that he's "not sure what the consequences will be with our liquor license."
And in addition to potential liquor-license ramifications, Timmons is also facing that complicity citation, for allegedly allowing the consumption violations.
Both Corry and Timmons point out that seventy-plus citations were issued during the Mile High 420 Festival at Civic Center Park, a city-owned property. Timmons wonders why he was given a complicity citation when no one from the city was: What makes the Civic Center event different?
Corry won't confirm whether his client also received a complicity citation, but he says he thinks it's an "interesting" direction for the city to take.
"Arguably, the City and County of Denver is in a gigantic federal law violation if that's the direction they want to go in," he explains. "If it's complicity for what the people do, then Denver is quite in complicity of violation of the U.S. code."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.